Schumer: Respiratory syncytial virus is on the rise; and feds need to step up to help Upstate hospitals
Standing at Oneida Health Hospital as respiratory syncytial virus cases surge in children across Central New York, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer launched a major new push to increase federal support for Upstate hospitals strained by the dramatic increase in RSV cases.
Oneida Health Hospital’s positive RSV cases have nearly doubled compared to last year – with 80 percent of cases being children under 5 years old.
Last week, the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics warned of “unprecedented levels” of RSV combined with increasing flu circulation are pushing many hospitals to the breaking point. Since the start of November, Oneida Health Hospital has recorded at least 66 positive RSV tests, which outpaces the number of positive COVID tests and positive flu tests recorded over the same period. At nearby Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse, they have so many RSV patients that it has run out of beds, and they are forced to send kids to hospitals in other cities.
Flanked by pediatricians on the frontlines, Schumer said the spiking levels of RSV with growing flu rates warrants immediately federal action, and called for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be ready to act at a moment’s notice to provide whatever support upstate hospitals need. Schumer said the federal government has unique authority to help, with the power to support temporary structures, surge staffing if there are not enough pediatricians available, moving patients across states lines, credentialing out of state providers, enhancing the use of telehealth, coordinating medical supply chains and more.
“Central New York hospitals are facing an unprecedented surge in RSV cases among children, and public health experts all say it is only going to get worse as we enter the cold winter months,” Schumer said. “Normally, RSV cases start to grow in October and November before peaking in December and January. It is outright scary, given that hospitals are already struggling to keep up, and it’s possible the worst is yet to come.
“As a grandfather to two young children, there is nothing more terrifying than the thought of them getting sick, and all across CNY parents are facing hospitals who are pushed to the brink, with increased wait times, full beds, all while their child is struggling to breathe because of RSV. Hospitals are doing their best on the frontlines, but the feds need to step up with a comprehensive plan to respond to this major spike and be ready for it to get worse.
“The feds have a unique ability to get more doctors and supplies where they’re needed, and they need to be prepared to do so. Nobody really knows what will come next, and if an Upstate hospital says they need something, the feds need to be able to say ‘help is on the way right now.’ Hospitals cannot afford to wait.”
“Thank you to Senator Schumer for shining light on the challenges we are facing with the current surge of multiple respiratory viruses in Central New York,” said Dr. Kathryn Anderson, Onondaga County Health Commissioner. “The simultaneous circulation of RSV, flu and COVID is driving far-higher levels of respiratory illnesses than we have seen for many years. The current RSV surge in children is straining our pediatric clinics and hospitals, and there is no readily available antiviral or vaccine for RSV. We strongly urge Central New Yorkers to get their flu vaccines and updated COVID booster to protect themselves, their families, and our healthcare systems as we head into the holiday season.”
“As the only dedicated pediatric facility for the central third of New York state, SUNY Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital is converting other units at Upstate University Hospital to accommodate the unprecedented surge of children with serious RSV infections,” said Upstate President Mantosh Dewan, MD. “We deeply appreciate Senator Schumer’s leadership and partnership in addressing this significant public health priority.”
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Schumer said that while most adults recover in a week or two, RSV can be very serious, especially for young children and older adults. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than 1 in the United States. SUNY Upstate Health Center has already recorded three times more RSV cases this year compared to years previous.
Oneida Health has recorded a total of 224 cases, with 40 percent of cases being in November alone – nearly double compared to last year.
This major strain on hospital resources comes as flu cases also are spiking across New York state, placing further strain on the healthcare system. Infants under 6 months are being hospitalized with RSV at more than seven times the weekly rate observed before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.